Aten Puts Data Center Power in the Closet

Aten's new IP KVM switch aims to let smaller businesses run scattered closets of servers like a single data center. 

Aten Technology has released an IP-enabled keyboard/video/mouse switch that promises to let smaller businesses manage multiple servers over the Internet regardless of which closet in which country the systems are tucked away.

"These new Category 5 switches [allow businesses] lots of flexibility from the standpoint of where you can deploy the switches as well as the servers," said Aten Sales Manager Lisa Person. That's an attractive proposition to midsize companies, she said, given that they seldom have entire data centers and instead tuck servers into closets or small rooms in dispersed locations.

Standard KVM switches allow users to connect a monitor, keyboard and mouse to a KVM device, which in turn connects via special cables to multiple computers. KVM-over-IP devices, on the other hand, dispense with the cables and thus are one of two types of switch that allow for remote system management, by capturing, compressing and packetizing signals from keyboards, monitors and mouse devices for delivery to a remote console application. Depending on price and feature set, KVM switches can connect from two to 64 computers.

Servers can also be daisy-chained to allow even more computers to be controlled from one KVM, but until recently that capability has been restricted to enterprise-grade devices.

Aten's new 8- and 16-port IP KVM switches—respectively, the KH1508i and KH1516i—in fact do provide daisy-chaining, and the fact that they can be used for remote management via IP connection allows limited IT staff to access and troubleshoot servers from anywhere in the world, Person said.

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"In the SMB [small and midsize business] space, what they really need is the reliability and functionality of enterprises but at an SMB price point," and without the bells and whistles of enterprise-grade devices, Person said.

One way Aten kept the price down is that the new switches only support one IP user, who can log in to manage eight or 16 servers, as opposed to supporting the four or five IP connections that more expensive switches can handle, Person said. Daisy-chaining also allows for scale-out as an SMB grows, she said.

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The eight-port switch is priced at $849.95, and the 16-port device is priced at $999.95. They support Windows, Macs, Sun and terminal-based systems. The devices come standard with a three-year warranty and 24/7 support for no additional charge.

The switches are a good fit for businesses that range in size from 100 seats or users up to about 500 seats or users, Person said.

According to André Girard, an analyst for the technology market research firm Venture Development, IP KVM switches were predominantly meant for large businesses with large data centers until about two years ago, but that's turned around lately as prices have come down.

Lower-priced IP-enabled KVM, such as Aten's recent launch, should appeal to the SMB market for a number of reasons, Girard said. "These solutions address concerns frequently encountered by the SMB consumer, including tighter IT budgets and the need to manage remote equipment at multiple sites with limited IT staff," he said.

When it comes to shopping around, Girard suggested looking at similar switches from Adder, Lantronix, Raritan and the market leader, Avocent. Historically, Avocent and Raritan have been No. 1 and No. 2 in market share, respectively, but lately Aten has moved into second place along with Raritan, Girard said. That is likely to be because, like a lot of other Asian companies, Aten is focusing more on entry-level KVM products, whereas Avocent is going for the deeper pockets of the enterprise.